The modern age of GMOs can be traced back to the first transgenic modification of E.coli bacteria in the early 1970s1. The application of these methods has expanded into agriculture and food manufacturing, but the modification of microorganisms continues to be the leading edge of developing new GMOs.
Genetically modified microbes are used to produce a variety of substances, from synthetic insulin to vitamin C to chymosin, an enzyme used to curdle milk for the production of cheese. Microbes also play a key role in synthetic biology, where artificial DNA is “printed” and inserted into a microorganism to produce a specific chemical such as vanillin.
The Non-GMO Project Standard requires products containing microbial products, probiotics, or enzymes to provide documentation that shows the microbe itself is not a genetically modified organism.
The following definitions may help while reading through the standard:
Microbe: A microorganism, especially a bacterium or fungus causing fermentation or otherwise metabolizing a substrate or media. Specific examples include yeasts such as Aspergillus niger and bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Enzyme: A protein molecule extracted from a living organism which acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction capable of breaking down materials. Specific examples include chymosin, catalase and amylase.
- Melo, EO, AM Canavessi, MM Franco, and R. Rumpf. “Animal Transgenesis: State of the Art and Applications.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web.